I’ll be honest here and say this film came out of nowhere for me. I’d never heard of the comic, and honestly hadn’t heard of the film until about a week and a half ago when I saw the coming soon trailer. All that being said, I stuck it on the TV on Saturday and really enjoyed it! It follows a group of immortals and covers all the entertaining ground you can with the concept, from the horrors of out-living everyone, to the fear of being locked away forever… and more! So let’s take a look then…
A group of immortals are finding it harder and harder to keep their secret as technology has progressed further and further, leading to them becoming the target of a pharmaceutical company’s desire for the cure of all diseases… and money, obviously. As if this wasn’t stressful enough, the group detect the presence of a new immortal in Afghanistan…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Erm…. Fine, I’ll surrender.
Without a doubt the highlight of the film is a core cast and their interplay, which is a vital part of any film to get right, but especially one that has a group of immortal do-gooders who have been allies for centuries! Charlize Theron as the immortal’s leader “Andy” (playful nickname based on her original name of Andromache of Scythia) is absolutely perfect, a bad ass who is also clearly at the end of her rope, having lived for so long (longer than the others by a wide margin) that she is beginning to wonder if there is any point in continuing to try and use their powers for good as the world is “getting worse by the day”. She takes it upon herself to track down the new immortal Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) after everyone shares a dream/vision of her arrival (weird side effect of the immortal curse, I guess!) and the two bond… after a few disagreements and a great fight sequence (“You’re now immortal and must come with me if you don’t want to be a lab rat forever” is a bit of a hard pill to swallow to be fair) and through this we learn more about Andy. She had a partner many, many years ago called Quynh (Veronica Ngo) who was sealed in a Iron Maiden and dumped in the bottom of the sea, constantly resurrecting, drowning and resurrecting again, with Andy unable to find her to save her from her fate causing great guilt. Nile soon understands more after she has a dream/vision of her own based on the woman’s growing insanity (which given she’s spent 500 years at the bottom of the ocean in a steel coffin constantly dying, makes sense…) We also find out that another immortal had died in front of her and Quynh, showing that sometimes they do just… die.
This fact becomes important because as the film draws towards the end we find out that it’s finally Andy’s “time” and her immortality has stopped. This gives her a further layer of the fear of death for the first time, the guilt giving her an accepting attitude at first, before the enthusiasm of Nile helps her to want to live her last life out. Overall, she’s a great character. For the record Nile Freeman is as well, the young actress gets across the youthful sarcasm and panic well, she ends up being more than the audience’s eyes into the immortal organization. The other three members that make up the group are great as well, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) didn’t take to the whole “watching your family grow old and die in front of you” thing well and is often depressed, leading to a big reveal (and this is the spoiler part now, so don’t complain!) that he worked with the villains of the film to capture them for experimentation in the hopes they could find a “cure” for their immortality and he can finally die. Although he ends up regretting it and helping everyone out at the end, he is “sentenced” to spend the next 100 years alone, agreeing to meet the others on the beach after that time had passed, which was a fun way of thinking about how immortals would divvy out punishment.
That’s probably about the right look to give to someone who just told you they’ve been alive for centuries, to be fair.
Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are a gay couple who first met on opposite ends of one of the Crusades, eventually realising when neither could die that the Gods they each follow probably weren’t a thing. Their love for each other has meant that they avoided the crushing loneliness and loss the other members of the group have faced, and the two have great chemistry together, especially joking about during more serious scenes to break the tension. Finally, in terms of characters, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Copley was good. He lost his wife to cancer and ended up stumbling upon the group of immortals when he buried himself in work (he works for the CIA). He thought that if Merrick Pharmaceutical could actually use them to cure diseases then nobody would have to go through what he did. Of course he finds out how completely out of morals the CEO is, mixed with his findings on how much good Andy and her group have done over the years, he regrets the side he took and helps Nile break them out.
After some fun short bursts of action and seeing some crazy healing, the final battle at the Merrick Pharmaceutical HQ was great, with some well choreographed action and a satisfying “she’s accepted her fate and is one of them now” plot point ending for Nile, including jumping out of a window with out lead antagonist, knowing she’s survive and he won’t. At the end of the battle Copley is recruited by them to both keep them off of the books and to find them work where they can continue to do good, Andy having finally been shown proof that what they do has a positive effect. Oh, and a pre-credits tease shows us Booker stumbling into his apartment only to find Quynh out of the ocean and having a sip of water, which wasn’t the most unexpected cliffhanger ever (why bother telling us some much about her if she never appears again!) but it’s a fun idea if they do a follow up.
The action as a whole was good. I’ve seen some people say it’s a low-rent copy of the John Wick style of action that’s popular at the moment, lot’s of quick movements and switching between guns in close range etc, and while it’s certainly true that it is indeed that kind of action and it doesn’t do it as well as the Wick trilogy, it’s still perfectly fun to watch. The rules of how the immortality works and what motivates each character is told to the audience well, which helps a lot. It’s very accomplished in that sense, and has a great cast to pull it off. Well, the protagonists anyway…
Yeah… Not exactly shitting myself, I have to say.
Fittingly, the biggest “Bad” of the film is the bad of the film: the lead villain. Merrick (Harry Melling) is a young and rich CEO of his own pharmaceutical company and wishes to use the immortal’s gifts to make himself even more rich (and probably immortal as well, though that’s surprisingly never mentioned…) and that’s literally it. He’s not developed in the slightest, and way he looks and is acts is proper comic book cheese which goes against the more grittier feel of the leads. Due to this the film does feel like it’s missing a key piece, after a great introduction and well executed and spread out exposition we’re robbed of a great final act by having a weedy CEO as our final foe. It’s a real shame, because looking back, that was the only problem I really had with the film, but it’s a big one!
“Ha! Did you see that?! I just shot him clean in the head! … Wait, he’s not getting up?” “How many times, we’re immortal, they’re not!” “Damn it! I forgot again!”
The Old Guard was a great way to spend two hours (especially since it was effectively free in the “appearing straight to a paid service” way…) with a great performance by Charlize Theron and the rest of the immortals, old and new, plus some fun fight sequences. A poor lead villain hurts the film’s final act, but otherwise it was a joy to lose myself in. I hope they get round to the teased second chapter!